During the past few weeks, I have not been certain of how good Season 6 of 24 was going to be, since the premiere hype has been rather overblown and overwhelming. Combine that with the covert release of the first four episodes (courtesy of the Internet), and there was almost a feeling that something was horribly wrong with the show.
Why would Fox be releasing a DVD (today, January 16, 2007) and somehow let its contents be leaked if the show was not up to par? Perhaps they wanted the first four hours to be pirated because they were trying to create a buzz or maybe it was the work of those devious enough to find a way. After viewing the first four hours of Season 6, I no longer care about any of this because 24 and our stalwart hero Jack Bauer are back with a vengeance.
The first and the fourth episodes feature neck wounds that figure prominently in the plotline and do much to show us Jack Bauer’s tenacity yet also reveal his new, more conflicted nature. Jack channels his David character from the rather fine movie Lost Boys in which Sutherland played a vampire. He has been chained to a chair by Abu (Mr. Clean) Fayed who wants him to die painfully because of a similar death his brother suffered in Jack’s hands (during some incident in 1999).
This is reminiscent of the situations in Season 1 and 3, when the Drazens and Saunders wanted to get revenge for Operation Nightfall in Kosovo. Needless to say, the list of people out there who want Jack dead is a long one.
Jack has just stepped off a transport plane from China, where he had been held prisoner for twenty months. Looking like a cross between The Count of Monte Cristo and Grizzly Adams, Jack ambles off the plane and gives the Chinese guy who authorized his capture and imprisonment one of those “Jack looks” that viewers of the show know means one thing: it’s not over between Jack and Cheng (and Cheng better watch his chopsticks for the foreseeable future).
Despite months of torture, Jack quickly gets back into shape (a shave, haircut, and new set of clothes help) after he learns that the new president Palmer (David’s brother Wayne who once learned how to release his inner Rambo courtesy of Jack’s tutelage in Season 5) has agreed to exchange Jack for cash and the location of one Hamri (Cat Stevens) Al-Assad (a terrorist believed to behind eleven weeks of deadly attacks all around the USA).
Jack has no problem with going from the frying pan into the fire and likes the idea that he will “die for something” in the exchange. He even tells Bill that his death “will be a relief.” Man, our pal Jack seems to be almost beyond hope at this point.
Once in the custody of the terrorists, Jack is quickly apprised of the truth by Mr. Clean (that it is he and not Assad who is behind all the bombings). Clean likes to inflict pain with a set of home dental and surgical instruments he keeps lying around for kicks. Giving Jack pain brings a gleam to Clean’s eye, but then he is called away to answer an urgent call.
What’s a busy terrorist to do but leave behind a flunky, which is like asking Jack to kill the dude? Within a few minutes Jack has faked his death by pulling out a heart monitor, and Concerned Terrorist rushes to assist him (I guess wanting to keep Jack alive so Clean can kill him). This is when Jack does his best Dracula imitation, sinking his teeth into the guy’s neck and pulling out a chunk of flesh and blood the size of Verne Troyer.
The ever-resourceful Jack has soon escaped, ruining the best part of Clean’s day. Well, he’s not going to let this get him down so he figures he’ll just go out and commit more terrorist acts. Jack manages to get a car and a cell phone faster than a burger and a Coke, and he informs his old buds at CTU that the exchange is all a fraud. He is quickly switched over to the president who has a hard time believing Assad is a good terrorist and Fayed is the bad one (a naughty and nice terrorist list might help).
An interesting new twist in Season 6 is that we are actually seeing the president in the Oval Office for the first time. In previous seasons we have seen the presidents on the ranch in California, on Air Force One, and even fishing on a lake, but they have never been in Washington until now. This is a welcome and needed development, especially with the nature of 24 being so entwined with technology that can easily connect both coasts.
Inside that Oval Office we now have Karen (I Love Bill) Hayes and Thomas (new Twitchy Guy) Lennox, played with gusto by that old Ally McBeal lawyer who was weirdly likeable on that show, but here he comes off as an annoying but dangerous sycophant.
A good deal happens in the first four episodes but it comes down to this: Jack is right and everyone else is not. Bill (I’m Married to Karen Now) Buchanan, head of CTU, is ready to support Jack (unlike Ryan Chappelle and others in charge in the past) and quietly has Chloe assisting him as he saves Cat from an air strike on his hideout. Then Jack and Cat form an uneasy alliance to track Mr. Clean, stop the attacks, and save the day.
This chase includes tracking one terrorist to his lair and stopping another from detonating a bomb on a subway car (instead Jack swiftly kicks him out the door and the terrorist blows himself up in the tunnel). Hey, Jack, you really can bend it like Beckham.
As for annoying subplots (and what would 24 be without them?) we have Ahmed (that White Castle movie dude) taking a family hostage, and Wayne’s sister Sandra (a lawyer for some Islamic Center) getting taken to a detention camp along with her boyfriend, a tall Muslim dude who is head of the Islamic center and suspected of terrorist activity.
I know the show has always had these subplots (and actually White Castle has to deliver an important component to Mr. Clean for his nuke to work), but they are still seemingly a waste of time in all and add little to the action.
It is obvious that the writers are taking great pains to distinguish good Muslims from bad ones (even those terrorists like Cat who now want to renounce violence and try to find peace) and even the good, bad, and ugly in our own government (detention camps, invasion of privacy, the need to protect citizenry, etc.). This is a panoramic kind of view of America, its war on terror, and the effects of these difficult years after 9/11. It works rather well and shows that 24 is now an accurate reflection of real life pain, paranoia, and patriotism.
No one more than Jack Bauer can be seen as emblematic of the strain of the conflict and the toll these years have taken. In Season 1 Jack looked like a happy family man until his world was torn apart slowly and irrevocably. In subsequent seasons, Jack has grown more weary, grizzled, and dark in appearance and personality. It would seem the only thing that drives him is the notion that there is a cause to be fought for and, if it is the right cause for the right reason, Jack will put everything into winning the battle.
The end of episode 4 is rather stark, depressing, and frightening. Jack gets into a standoff with Curtis (whom I used to joke about getting lost for four hours trying to find his way back to CTU) over Cat. Apparently Cat had once wiped out an army team, leaving Curtis for dead and taking two of the men hostage. These men were later beheaded by Cat himself, so Curtis has a grudge against him and doesn’t want to see him getting an immunity deal from the President.
Curtis puts a gun to Cat’s head and is ready to send him to see 72 virgins, but Jack springs into action. He asks Curtis to drop his weapon “in the name of the President of the United States.” Unfortunately, Curtis isn’t going to let Cat go free, so Jack has no choice but to shoot him in the neck. Curtis gets this look of disbelief as he crumples to the ground and dies as the TAC team rushes Cat off to the safety of a van.
This second neck wound can be juxtaposed with the first one and used as a barometer of Jack’s day so far. He kills the terrorist savagely, relying on his bestial inner vamp to get free. Here, Jack kills Curtis with cool precision, yet the very nature of this causes Jack to run off, collapse in a heap, and vomit (I’ll bet every last bit of that chop suey from the plane ride came up).
In past seasons Jack has been at times a killing machine, but here it seems Curtis’s death is just more than he can bear. He tells Bill on the cell phone that he can’t do this anymore, but then what to his suffering eyes should appear but a mushroom cloud in the distance. The nuke has been detonated in a warehouse in Valencia, and Jack’s reaction is a combination of shock, fear, and anger. We shiver as he tries to process the sight of something that should be incomprehensible, yet in the reality of our everyday lives since 9/11, it is more than believable and possible, and that’s what makes it all the more frightening.
Until next week, Klaatu barada nikto!